Women who have undergone breast augmentation sometimes report reduced sensation in the nipples and areolae, although this is pretty rare. In most cases, this goes away entirely after about 6 months. And so, although this is not a huge concern when considering breast augmentation surgery, patients should be aware of how this side-effect manifests, and how it is different from other sensations that might occur after breast augmentation surgery.
Is Loss of Sensation After Breast Augmentation Common?
Very few studies and statistics have been published on changes to nipple/areolar sensation after breast augmentation surgery. However, experience tells us that partial sensation loss occurs in approximately 5% of patients, and that sensation gradually returns to normal in the 3-6 months following surgery.
Full sensation loss is relatively rare, and occurs in less than 1% of women who’ve undergone breast augmentation surgery.
In fact, according to a 2016 study published in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal, losing nipple sensitivity at week 4, month 6, and year 1 is 0.2%, and losing feeling to the nipples permanently is extremely rare.
How Breast Augmentation Can Affect Nipple Sensation
The nerves responsible for sensation in the nipple and areola extend from between the ribs, radiating out toward the skin’s surface. They extend to the peak of the breast from the breastbone, armpit, clavicle, and solar plexus regions (a network of nerves in the abdomen behind the stomach).
While this is generally how these nerves are connected, everyone’s particular arrangement is different—no two women will have the same shape or innervation of their breasts. Also, most women’s left and right breasts aren’t perfectly identical, either.
What Happens During Breast Augmentation Surgery Can Affect These Nerves
During breast augmentation surgery, the soft tissue of the breast is supplemented with a silicone or saline implant. An incision is usually performed either under the breast, around the nipple, or through the armpit. The implant is then introduced in front or under the pectoralis muscle, which covers the chest wall behind the breast.
Sensation in the nipple can be disrupted if and when these nerves are cut during the operation. It can also be disrupted if the implant stretches the nerve across a wider distance. This is why sensation loss is correlated with implant size: The bigger the implant, the more likely loss of sensitivity can occur.
New nerve growth can also cause unusual sensations, like an itching, tingling, or intermittent “shooting” sensation. Some patients report decreased sensation (numbness), while others experience increased sensation (hypersensitivity). These feelings usually get better over time and rarely last more than 6 months.
Patients often ask what incision technique best preserves nipple sensation. There is evidence showing that there is no difference between an incision around the areola or an incision under the breast, as far as nipple sensation is concerned.
Recovery After Breast Augmentation Surgery
Everyone’s body responds uniquely to surgery, and aesthetic procedures are no exception. Any surgical procedure carries the risk of scar formation, infection, and body fluids collecting at the operation site. These complications can also affect nipple sensation.
Unfortunately, there are no surgical procedures that reliably restore sensation to the nipples in the rare cases when it does not resolve. However, some providers are experimenting with procedures aimed at restoring nipple sensitivity.
Nipple Re-sensitization and Inverting using PRP Regenerative Injection Therapy. With this procedure, PRP (Platelet Rich Plasma) injections are used to help nerve endings regenerate in the nipple area. Improved blood flow to the area may help nipple sensitivity to return.
Nipple Nerve Reconstruction. This procedure is done during the breast reconstruction operation. The surgeon reconstructs the nerves that supply sensation to the nipple and the skin around it.
Note that ongoing or severe pain after breast augmentation surgery isn’t normal. If you are experiencing this, you should talk to your surgeon.
Plastic surgeons take great pride in their patients’ satisfaction—your surgeon will help you achieve the best possible outcome from a breast implant procedure, which includes discussing unexpected pain or numbness. However, finding another care provider is encouraged if you don’t think you are in good hands.
Contact The Breslow Center for Patient Care You Can Trust
Gary D. Breslow, MD, FACS and Patrick J. Greaney, MD, FACS are widely recognized as leading authorities in breast enhancement surgery throughout New Jersey and have successfully performed revision procedures on countless patients. Feel free to reach out to us for a second opinion if you are experiencing unexpected side effects following breast enhancement surgery.